Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Election Preview: No Roman Empire in Senate District 10

With the election just a week away, we at Kaw & Border are launching an election preview series regarding several races in Johnson County.

Today, we are focusing on a race we have examined before -- District 10, involving Republican Mary Pilcher Cook and Democrat Pete Roman.

Mary Pilcher Cook defeated Sue Gamble soundly in the primary by a 57-43% margin. Pete Roman barely escaped the Democratic primary, defeating Michael Bolton.

Expectedly, Pete Roman is taking page 1 from the KTRM playbook and using their favorite bogeyman, Phill Kline, in an attempt to bring down Cook. Mary, on the other hand, is relying on a solidly positive message like she did in the primary, combined with a heavy ground game -- which anyone driving through the district can tell.

Roman is hoping for enough Republicans to crossover to combine with Democrats and a few Unaffiliateds to get to the magic number. It is appropriate to note in this case that Roman lost to Nick Jordan 61-39 in 2004.

We at Kaw & Border expected the margin to be smaller, but well short of what Roman needs. Mary is one of the most effective campaigners in Johnson County and has an effective campaign team that has raised the right kind of money and has the appropriate ground game in order to overcome the negative barbs coming out of camp Roman.

The fact is that District 10 leans conservative, and now will have an authentic conservative to represent them. There will be no Roman Empire in District 10.

Is the Kansas political landscape changing?

It seems as if for the past 6 years, since Kathleen Sebelius took over as Governor, that we've been somewhat frozen in time politically in Kansas. Due to her huge cash advantages and the overall mood of the nation, Republicans in general and conservatives in particularly, have been somewhat on the defensive even in a red state like Kansas.

Now, why is this?

Some of this is was bound to happen, in our opinion. First of all, the one-party rule of the 90's was unlikely to sustain itself because constant inner-party squabbling usually results in the other party making up ground, and they have. Secondly, and related to the first point, is that due to the one party rule, a lot of liberals were hanging out in the Republican Party because that was the only path towards getting elected in Kansas. These "RINO's" (Republicans In Name Only) resulted in the party not being able to have either have a consistent message or consistent leadership, and also, many volunteers were simply tired after the primaries, resulting in defeats in the general election.

Now, with the rise of the Democratic Party in Kansas, many of these liberals have found a more comfortable home there. This isn't a criticism, mind you -- that's where they should be. Parties are not meant to be mere political organizations, they are meant to be organizations of people with a like-minded philosophy, even if they sometimes disagree over particulars on issues. When parties lose that philosophical identity, everything else falls apart and it opens up the door for a party with a philosophy (and the Democrats do have one, even if they do not admit it) to rise.

Also, the Democratic Party, frankly, has done a good job in fielding candidates. Now, they might not always win or be of the highest quality, but the first step towards building a party is at least fielding candidates in races, and they have done so. This resulted in 2006 victories in Districts 18 and 16 in Johnson County, as well as in the 2nd and 3rd congressional Districts.

Now, that said, some of the Democrats success in Kansas is a mirage and as a result, signs are beginning to a political realignment in Kansas that will favor conservatives. Now, this might seem strange if you read media reports that seem to indicate conservatives are in retreat -- but a further examination of the political realities in Kansas point to, at the very least, some real opportunities for huge conservative gains in future cycles.

Let's first examine each of the Democrats major political figures -- Sebelius, Lt. Gov Mark Parkinson, AG Steve Six, and Congressmen Dennis Moore and Nancy Boyda. Of these, only Sebelius came to power independent of other factors. Originally elected to insurance commissioner in 1994, an overall huge Republican year, Sebelius was the Democrats one shining star in Kansas. She was able to use that status, and her considerable political skills, to motivate Democrats -- and she then took advantage of a split Republican party in 2002 (which was a three way primary for the GOP) to defeat Tim Shallenburger in November. Due to her fundraising prowess and the Republicans disorganization and fundraising problems, she was able to coast to re-election in 2006, and overall down year for Republicans anyway. She remains a large threat should she choose to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

Of the others, each has a rather unimpressive rise to power:

Lt. Gov Mark Parkinson -- a former State Representative whose seat was oddly, replaced by Kay O'Connor and now Lance Kinzer, and State Senator who was replaced by a now conservative-safe-seat in Karin Brownlee, has been off the political radar since 1996. Having never run a tough race in his life, he is a bit of a political bore who is not even that popular in Democratic circles who owes his political status exclusively to Sebelius, and who many observers feel would be a weak Governor candidate in 2010, whether it be against Ron Thornburgh or more likely, potential powerhouse in U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative.

Attorney General Steve Six -- A political newcomer, he was appointed by Sebelius after former formidable figure Paul Morrison resigned in disgrace early in 2008. Six, who is untested in any electoral sense, will likely face a very stiff challenge from the Republicans in 2010, probably from a conservative. Conservatives are well motivated to win this seat back, so if they can find a candidate who can unify conservatives while appealing to independents and rule-of-law Democrats, they can win this seat.

Congressman Dennis Moore -- Moore, along with Sebelius, is the Democrats other success story in Kansas. However, people forget how he won -- in 1998, the public was voting against Republicans largely due to the unpopularity of the impeachment proceedings against Clinton. Moore, due to that and a split within the Republican Party, defeated Vince Snowbarger. He then won narrowly in 2000 (against a then-popular Phill Kline) and in 2002 (against Adam Taff), but has since largely coasted. This year he faces State senator Nick Jordan, who in a Republican year would have a strong chance, but faces an uphill battle this year due to the overall mood of the country and the fact Moore simply has 10 years of incumbency and a reputation (even if undeserved) of being a moderate. No doubt, he has good political skills and comes across well and has had a fundraising and media advantage that is hard to beat. However, Moore came to office due to overall political winds -- and has not risen any higher. Many observers feel that Moore is looking for a way to retire and that Dems have begged him to keep running, largely because they have no bench in the 3rd District and have been trying to find a successor who could defeat what will surely be the first motivated Republican party in nearly a decade. Point is, this seat could easily become conservatively held once Moore leaves (whether to retire or possibly run for Sam Brownbacks seat) -- its only a matter of time. It will be interesting to see if the Republicans and Democrats can find a decent candidate for their parties.

Congresswoman Nancy Boyda -- Boyda, much more so than even Moore, came to power based on good luck. Crushed in 2004, she ran against Jim Ryun again in 2006, was able to capture a very anti-Republican wind and defeat Ryun, who by almost all accounts ran a poor campaign that took Boyda for granted. Now, Boyda faces Lynn Jenkins, a moderate, well speaking Republican State Treasurer, who even in this bad year for Republicans, stands a good chance of defeating the incumbent, who has largely been an embarrassment in Congress. Should Jenkins win, the seat will probably go back to safe Republican as the Democrats, much like in the 2nd District, have no bench here. (Side note -- it should be noted that if Jenkins wins, Sebelius will be able to appoint Jenkins replacement, therefore perhaps creating another Steve Six situation).

So, you see where we're going here -- the Democrats officeholders are all fairly weak, their one star is term limited, opening the door for Republicans to rise to power again. Now, the question is -- which type of Republican will it be?

Let's first look at the Governor's race. It is likely that U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, the conservatives superstar in Kansas, is going to make the run for Governor. The conservatives have never held the governorship, so this is going to be a huge opportunity for a major political shift in Kansas. Even with Brownback's fight with conservatives on immigration, the fact is on every other issue he is rock solid, and he has been making friends traveling around the state helping out legislative candidates. While Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh has tried the same, despite being in office for 12 years, his lack of a major race (his toughest fight was from Kay O'Connor, who simply didn't have the financial resources necessary to run a statewide effort) and status is unlikely to defeat the machine, name Id, and political muscle that is Sam Brownback. For the general, Mark Parkinson wouldn't have a prayer even if he were to be the nominee -- many think that Dennis McKinney would be the choice for the Democrats.

The other major race in 2010 will surely be the U.S. Senate race. Both parties will have a serious decision here. IN the case of the Democrats, will their superstar Sebelius run? Or, if Obama wins, will she be in his Cabinet? Hard to say. We believe she will run for the U.S. Senate but she would then have to run against either Congressman Todd Tiahrt or Congressman Jerry Moran, both of whom would be formidable. If the Republicans can avoid a primary, this would be a huge fight and conservatives would be extremely motivated, particularly if Tiahrt could emerge. Even Moran, who although conservative is not as much as Tiahrt, would be exciting.

A ticket led by Brownback and Tiahrt would be a conservative force not seen in Kansas since 1994, when both originally came to power. If Moore were to retire, conservatives would also likely emerge in the third and fourth congressional districts. If Tiahrt opted to stay in the 4th and Moran ran, then you might see someone like State Senator Tim Huelskamp -- a dedicated conservative, emerge in District 1 -- remember, Huelskamp raised money for Congress back in 2006 before Moran decided not to challenge Sebelius.

This political force would likely lead to conservative opportunities in other races as well. Of course, you'd have the Lt. Governor, probably a state legislator who was a rising star. It is likely that all the statewide offices would be "open" or at least held by someone who hadn't actually won a race before, such as Six or possibly a new State Treasurer. Insurance Commissoner, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and State Treasurer would all be open for conservatives eager to run on the coattails of a Brownback/Tiahrt or Brownback/Moran surge. The moderate Republicans would surely field candidates, but if the conservatives field effective candidates, the mods are likely to be overwhelmed in the primaries by a motivated conservative base.

This also has effects at the legislative level. Even this year, as we look at the State Senate, we see conservatives emerging. Mary Pilcher Cook, Jeff Colyer, Ty Masterson and Dick Kelsey are all likely to win their seats. Steve Abrams, Steve Fitzgerald and Jim Zeller are all strong candidates poised to win victories on November 4. In addition, two Senators who voted for the Morris leadership team last year -- Roger Reitz and Roger Pine -- are very vulnerable, and Julia Lynn -- whose vote is up for grabs -- is in danger as well. This could very well mean conservatives win control of the State Senate.

In the House, things are open. In Johnson County, conservatives could very well win seats in District 18 and District 22 over former party switchers Cindy Neighbor and Lisa Benlon. Democrats, though fielding candidates county-wide, are unlikely to see any pickups, or if they do, it will be limited to 1 or 2.

And even in the District Attorney races -- conservatives Steve Howe in Johnson County and Eric Rucker in Shawnee County -- have excellent chances at victory in this increasingly hot area of electoral politics in Kansas.

Now, will all these seats go conservative? Probably not. But, for the first time in 15 years, 2010 represents a real opportunity for a change in the political landscape in Kansas. The message here is that conservatives, depressed from recent losses, should simply be patient, fight the fights that need to be fought, knowing that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Conservative "Doers" of Kansas

We at Kaw & Border believe there are two types of politicians: those who get elected to be something and those who are elected to do something. The be something types are a dime a dozen -- those who run for the prestige, the title, the power, the fame, or some combination thereof. You can spot them from a mile away -- and while some may indeed vote "right" some or even most of the time, you rarely find them sticking their necks out or leading the charge on a particular issue. Their focus is on getting elected and on being liked by the highest amount of people possible.

The do something types, on the other hand, are the opposite. Often labeled by the media as "right wing" or "extreme", the truth is that the media -- and even some within their own party -- assign these labels because they fear courageous leaders who seek real change that goes against either the agenda of the media or somehow might be deemed controversial.

The fact is, of course, these leaders -- people like Mary Pilcher Cook, Lance Kinzer, Kasha Kelley, Anthony Brown, among others -- are not extreme in any sense of the word. They take positions on issues -- whether it be life, fiscal issues, government size, etc -- that are well within the mainstream of Kansas values and whose positions, when polled honestly, actually are favored by a majority of Kansas voters. This is proven by their ability to get elected and re-elected.

The sad part is there aren't enough "doers" in politics these days, whether it be in Kansas or elsewhere. The reason is because of the scorn that such brave leadership invites -- from opponents, the media, and even friends. Look at Sarah Palin -- America's #1 "conservative doer", and how she's been attacked across the board. Who would want to be subjected to that?

Which is what makes those who do run and do serve all the more impressive. Kaw & Border salutes these courageous conservatives for standing up and standing proud.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Greg Musil, judicial selection, and defending the indefensible

There are a few things in life that are absolute certainties.

Death.
Taxes.

And the fact that Johnson County moderates and liberals, when faced with likely defeat in a particular election, will bring up their favorite bogeyman, District Attorney Phill Kline, in an effort to sway the voters towards their point of view.

KTRM tried it in primary race in Senate District 10 between Mary Pilcher Cook and Sue Gamble, when trashy hit pieces were sent out trying to link Pilcher Cook to Kline. That strategy proved embarassingly bad, as Pilcher Cook crushed Gamble 57-43 in the primary.

Now, Greg Musil and "Johnson Countians for Justice" are bringing up Phill Kline again in their effort to defeat the November ballot initiative to elect judges in the 10th Judicial District, which encompasses Johnson County. They have even taken to taking out a billboard on I-35, as noted in this Kansas City Star article: . http://www.kansascity.com/news/breaking_news/story/825632.html

The billboard says the following:

“Keep Phill Kline Off Our Court, VOTE NO ON QUESTION 1,” the big red billboard screams on the west side of Interstate 35 just south of Shawnee Mission Parkway.

I know campaigns are full of hyperbole but that's perhaps the most ridiculous ad campaign I've heard in a long time.

Let's assume that Question 1 passes on November 4 and judicial elections are initiatied in Johnson County. There are currently 19 Divisions in Johnson County, meaning there would be 19 county-wide elections for District Judges in Johnson County. These races would be partisan in nature, meaning there would be party primaries and then a general election, as there is for other races.

Phill Kline, in his most recent county-wide primary election, earned 40% of the vote. In his most recent general election, he earned 35% of the vote county wide. Does Greg Musil or anyone else seriously think he would get elected judge, if he were to even run for such a post?

No, of course not.

Actually, this is just the latest in a line of silly arguments Musil and company have been making in opposition to Question 1.

On their website, http://www.justicenotforsale.org/, they say in big bold letters, "Justice, Not Politics." They want the public to believe that th e current "merit system", where FOURTEEEN PEOPLE (yes, 14) send three names to the governor who MUST select one of the three (or the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court selects one), is somehow apolitical. This ignores the fact that virtually all of the members of the current Johnson County nominating commission are politically active or have given significant contributions for Governor (who makes the final choice), Attorney General (who prosecutes cases), and other races. How can one claim a system is apolitical when former Attorney General Paul Morrison was on the commission?

Yet despite the fact that elected officials have served on the current precious nominating commission, another argument they make against Question 1 is that in Wichita, where they do elect district judges, that three (yes, just three-- Judge Eric Yost (former State Senator), Judge Anthony Powell (former State Representative), and Judge Jeff Goering (former State Representative))former elected officials currently are judges, and a fourth (Senator Phil Journey) is running -- insinuating that this is a bad thing. Of course, they cite nothing about any of these individuals that is a problem, other than they had "legislative experience". -- not citing why it is bad. Nevermind the fact that all four are well-regarded attorneys. Plus, shouldn't the fact they were LEGISLATORS and thus KNOW THE LAW a good thing? And what is the big concern over the fact that 4 out of the 25 (16%) are former elected officials? Is there anything wrong with these individuals continuing their public service if the voters support them? Should all former elected officials be disqualified? If they were appointed by a precious nominating commission, would that magically make them qualified?

The "Justice Not For Sale" folks also bemoan the fact that, if Question 1 passes, that the judges would have to run campaigns and "gasp" raise money. Yes, Mr. Musil, God forbid these judges actually would have to share their judicial philosophy with the public. God forbid that these judges would have to be "judged" themselves by the public, who they are supposed to represent (Some will claim they represent the law, not the people, ignoring the fact that the law was created by elected legislators who were elected by the people). God forbid they'd actually have to earn support.

Finally, another ridiculous thing the "Justice Not for Sale" folks cite is that (from their website) "only about 15 percent of all Kansas voters voted in the primary elections in 2006. In such a low turnout election, 7.6 percent of all voters could end up choosing who will be your judge if you are injured in an accident, face a divorce or if someone sues you for breach of contract. Because primary voters tend to be more ideological and partisan, the judges they would select would almost certainly also be more ideological and partisan." First of all, they cite 2006, which was the lowest turnout in recent history in Kansas primary elections, not the fall of 2004, when 75% of Johnson Countians turned out. But, even accepting their outlier turnout example, instead of having 15 percent of the people decide who MIGHT BE "ideological or partisan", they'd rather have FOURTEEN PEOPLE decide, most if not all of whom are DEFINITELY idelogical OR partisan (as seen by their political donations and activism).

And they expect the public to buy this?

Of course, anyone can see through the thin screen of deception in thair arguments. Indeed, it is political motivations alone that is behind the opposition to Question 1:

First of all, while bemoaning the fact political conservatives are some of the people driving the support for the initiative, Johnson Countians for Justice is full of liberal-leaning groups and individuals, including the left-wing Mainstream Coalition, well known liberal "Republican" Dick Bond, the liberal leaning Chambers of Commerce, and Greg Musil himself, who is a former City Councilman in Overland Park who got trounced by Phill Kline in the 2000 Congressional Race in the republican Primary (this was pre-Phill is the devil media campaign).

Isn't it funny how much they criticize "politics" yet how many of them are willing to be part of a political campaign about the judges themselves, contributing thousands to defeat an initiative?

Isn't it also ironic how much these people, who so enthusastically support the "retention" system because its supposedly apolitical and doesn't involve campaigns that involve fundraising, are forming a vast political organization and spending thousands upon thousands to defeat Question 1, which is essentially a retention vote on the system as a whole?

Of course, the main reason why they oppose electing judges is that they want to maintain their current closed-loop system of judicial selection which has no checks and balances, no trail of accountability to the public, and no external method of questioning the system, other than legislative action to reform the system or citizen initiative to elect judges.

Let's review -- the current system is this: When there is a vacancy in the Johnson County District Court, a nominating commission of 7 regular people (each appointed by one member of the Board of County Commissioners) and 7 lawyers (elected by fellow lawyers) meet to submit three "nominees" to the governor who MUST pick one of the three. If the Governor doesn't, the State Supreme Court justice picks one. There is NO confirmation by the Senate, NO election. The ONLY check is the "retention" vote when all 19 judges are subjected to a "Yes/No" vote, despite the fact there is little to no information about their judicial philosophy or decisions -- and as such, no one is ever not retained. And, even if one was ousted, the replacement would be submitted to the same system!

Consider these scenarios:

Scenario A. The State of Kansas elects Sam Brownback as Governor, a conservative. A vacancy occurs in the Johnson County District Court. The Johnson County Nominating Commission, composed of seven liberal lawyers and 3/7 liberal "regular people", sends three liberal names to the governor. Governor Brownback refuses to nominate any of the three, citing their liberal philosophy and the fact that all seven members of the Kansas State Supreme Court are currently liberals, and how the court needs balance. As a result, the State Supreme Court Chief Justice selects one. So, even if the Governor is conservative, he/she could not shift the balance of the court, like is seen on the federal bench.

Scenario B. Judge Smith, a political liberal, is defeated narrowly in a rare retention defeat as the result of an organized opposition to his candidacy. Govenor Sebelius claims that Judge Smith was the victim of a political witchhunt. As such, the 10/14 liberal members of the nominating commission select a close associate of Judge Smith, Judge Jones, also a known liberal as one of the three nominees -- and Governor Sebelius chooses him. No confirmation by the Republican Senate and no immediate retention vote. The public's will is thwarted.

Scenario C. Long-time well known and respected lawyer Joe Smith has had a distinguished career and wants to be a judge, so he applies and his name is submitted to the nominating commission. He is clearly the most qualified of any of the applicants. In a closed-door session, it is discovered that Joe Smith has a conservative judicial philosophy. The liberal dominated nominating commission, upon discovering this, fails to submit his name to the conserative Governor Sam Brownback, who they know would likely pick him. The distinguished Joe Smith is denied a judgeship despite enormous qualifications.

All of these scenarios are plausible, if not probable, under the current system. And all are unacceptable. That's why reform is needed.

What's particiuarly silly about the opposition to Question 1 is the political reality that would likely retain most of the 19 District Court judges in Johnson County. The fact is, that if Question 1 passes, and the 19 District Court Judges had to run for election, the likelihood is that most all would be elected. Why? Because all are incumbents, all would have the financial support and endorsement of the bar establishment, and few, if any, have issued rulings that have angered a majority of the public. Also, because the passage of Question 1 would trigger 19 separate county-wide elections for the District Court, it is likely that most of the 19 slots would only have one candidate -- in fact, as they admit on their own website, only 15 of the 85 District court spots up in the general of 2004 were contested. So where is the vast infusion of politics?

(Side note - Johnson Countians for Justice claims that the merit system is better because while only 15 of the 85 election-style judicial slots actually had an election, ALL of their "merit system" slots had an up or down vote, giving the public more of the choice. Okay, fine -- why not have a system where in races where there is just one candidate after the filing deadline, there is a "make seat vacant" option in addition to the single filed candidate, and if the "vacant" option wins, the governor then appoints a replacement for the term? Just an idea to deal with this line or argument.)

Also, even if all 19 spots were contested, despite the over-the-top factually-misleading fear mongering of the Phill Kline ad, it is likely that most of the 19 spots would be filled by moderate Republicans, as Johnson County, on a county-wide level, leans right but only moderately so. But even if, say, 4 of the 19 judges were conservative, why is this bad? Isn't a good portion of Johnson County (Olathe, for instance), conservative and thus shouldn't part of the District Court have judges who have a conservative judicial philosophy? Why is this unreasonable?

One could argue what the BEST reform could be to the current system. Some could argue for system that maintained a commission, but made all 14 people appointed by public officials, rather than the bar association. Some could argue for nominees being sent to the Governor, but that the Governor could override it and pick who he/she choose. Some could even argue for electing the nominating commission members, so they all would be accountable. But no -- Musil and his pals do not suggest any such alternative reforms.

Why?

Because any change to the current closed-loop system threatens the exclusive control the liberal bar association, elite business groups, and liberal political groups/indivdiuals have over the Kansas Judicial Branch. The support of the extreme left Mainstream Coalition is evidence enough of this. Of course, in any election system, they would still have SIGNIFICANT IMPACT AND INFLUENCE over who is elected becuase of the power and money they have -- but they aren't satisifed with that -- they want TOTAL control, even if it is not based on the principles our nation and state was founded upon. They can't fathom the camel's nose under the tent. They don't want the light of day shined upon the philosophies of the judges they choose.

Oddly enough, Musil and company will not defend the "merit system" on its merits, because they know it has none. Instead, they will rely on fear-mongering billboards with their favorite bogeyman in big letters. One would think that lawyers would rely upon more sound arguments.

Not when their precious little closed-circuit system is in danger of collapse, huh?